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Covid-19 restrictions ‘strangulating’ bars

A leading bar owner has described the recent Covid-19 restrictions on the hospitality sector as akin to “starving a person to death rather than pulling the trigger”, as data shows the sector is not responsible for rising cases.

Sly Augustin, owner of Trailer Happiness in London, UK

Speaking to The Spirits Business last week, Sly Augustin, owner of Trailer Happiness in London, discussed the detrimental effects the new three-tier local lockdown restrictions would have on the hospitality sector.

New measures were introduced across England last week despite the most recent Public Health England data showing fewer than 3% of traceable Covid-19 infections outside of the home were linked to food outlets and restaurants. The majority of cases stemmed from care homes, educational settings and work places.

The three tiers comprise level one, medium, which means on-trade businesses must close at 10pm and citizens can mix in groups of no more than six people indoors or outdoors. Regions placed into tier two restrictions face tougher rules, including no mixing of households indoors, including homes, bars, pubs and restaurants. Tier three means no household mixing indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or private gardens, and the closure of all pubs and bars not selling meals.

At midnight on Friday, London was moved into tier two along with seven other parts of England: Barrow and Furness, Chesterfield, Elmbridge in Surrey, Erewash, Essex, North East Derbyshire and York.

Augustin said: “We got the 10pm curfew and I knew at that moment, I was absolutely sure the curfew would just pre-empt the next stage of lockdown because the evidence had already pointed out that hospitality wasn’t responsible for the numbers [of coronavirus cases], therefore curfew was never going to help.

Curfew just exaggerated the problem. We saw people crammed onto public transport, having house parties, going to supermarkets, carrying on the evening – I don’t think it was even remotely possible it could have controlled the virus.

“And now we’re in tier two, which again is like a way to starve a person to death rather than pulling the trigger. You still get the same result, you still get the hospitality industry dying, but [the government] doesn’t have to claim responsibility in the same way they could if they asked us to close.

“I think they’ve been quite masterful in how they’ve slowly, slowly, drip, drip, strangulated the industry and just imported restrictions that target hospitality specifically.”

Augustin continued to lament how the tier two restrictions would likely signal the end of the road for businesses without additional financial help from the government, and fast.

London tiki bar Trailer Happiness is an award-winning venue

“It’s going to become virtually impossible for hospitality to continue for any period of time,” he said. “If it goes on for more than a fortnight, many businesses will be thinking about winding down.”

London mayor supports 80% furlough for hospitality

This morning (19 October), hundreds of hospitality professionals gathered in Parliament Square, London, for the Hospo Demo protest against the 10pm hospitality curfew and additional restrictions for the sector.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, who had been calling for London to be moved from tier one into tier two, voiced his support for the protest.

He encouraged the UK government to provide the 80% furlough scheme, introduced at the start of the pandemic, to help hospitality businesses survive local lockdown measures.

“I support those from across our hospitality sector protesting today, deeply anxious about their future,” Khan said. “The huge failures in the test and trace system have meant that further Covid restrictions are now necessary, but our bars, restaurants and other venues must now get the extra financial support they need urgently to stay afloat.

“The 80% furlough scheme was a lifeline for many businesses at the start of the pandemic, and it is this level of support London’s hospitality sector now needs to prevent further widespread unemployment and ensure this world-leading sector can return to business when the virus is under control.

“Until the government gets a grip on this virus, ministers have an obligation to give businesses the support they need to survive while restrictions remain in place.”

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